Thirty years. More than 30 years, actually, these caramels have been part of my life.
Now that you know what decade my age resides in, let me tell you a little secret:
These caramels are the best. Ever.
My mom has been making these caramels at Christmas ever since I can remember. We kids would sit in an assembly line and help wrap them in waxed paper (and sneak a few in our mouths) to give to neighbors and friends.
I have since carried on the tradition of making these. Candy making can be a bit intimidating and scary, but with a handy-dandy candy thermometer (ultra cheap varieties are sold at most stores) and a bit of patience, it isn’t very difficult.
Homemade caramels are essential at the holidays and these creamy, sweet morsels are the only ones I ever make. Thanks, mom!
A Few Tips:
*I think one of the most common reasons candy-making can cause frustration is because of errors in the candy thermometer you may be using. It is a good idea to calibrate your cooking thermometer before each use – and it is quite easy. Bring a pot of water to a boil. After the water has reached a full rolling boil, insert your candy thermometer into the water, being sure not to let the tip touch the bottom of the pot and inserting the tip at least 2 inches into the water and the temperature on the candy thermometer should read 212 degrees F. If your candy thermometer reads a few degrees higher or lower – no fear! You don’t need to go out and buy a new candy thermometer (although long-term you may consider it), you simply need to adjust cooking temperature of your candy the few degrees your thermometer was off in the boiling water.
*This particular caramel recipe is unusual in that you don’t need to stir after adding the second half of the sweetened condensed milk. This is a bonus because you don’t need to slave away at the stove stirring for hours – but still be careful to check your candy thermometer often to make sure the correct temperature has been reached (and not exceeded!). Also, in order for the caramel not to scorch, remember to cook the caramel over medium-low heat. This requires time and patience because the caramel won’t cook as quickly as at high heat, but trust me, unscorched caramels are worth the wait!
*Finally, when pouring the caramel onto a buttered baking sheet, do not scrape the caramel from the bottom and sides of the pan. Simply turn the pan and let the cooked caramel roll out onto the baking sheet – when it has stopped flowing out, stop pouring and resist the temptation to scrape up the caramel stuck to the sides and bottom. Just walk away. Well, don’t just walk a way, but put the pan in the sink and work on spreading out your caramels. You don’t want the icky stuff left over on the pan. Trust me.
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 ½ cups light corn syrup
- 1 can sweetened condensed milk (add only ½ to begin with)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup butter
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1 ½ cups chopped toasted pecans (optional)
- Butter the sides and bottom of a 9X13-inch pan. Set aside.
- In a medium heavy saucepan, add sugar, corn syrup, 1/2 can sweetened condensed milk, salt and butter. Over medium-low heat, stirring constantly to ensure the sugar is completely melted, bring the mixture to a boil and add the rest of the sweetened condensed milk when it begins to boil. Insert the candy thermometer and clip onto your pan at this point. Once the second half of the condensed milk has been added and the mixture is boiling again, stop stirring to prevent sugar crystallization (which means the caramels will have a grainy texture). Boil the mixture still at medium-low heat, without stirring until the mixture reaches the soft ball stage on a candy thermometer (234 degrees F). If you like your caramels a bit firmer, you can cook them up to 248 degrees F, which is firm ball stage but I prefer mine really soft (I will warn you that most people find this stage a bit too soft so use your best judgment and preference). When the caramel reaches the right temperature, immediately remove the pan from the heat and stir in the vanilla and toasted pecans (if using). Carefully pour the hot mixture into the prepared pan without scraping the bottom and sides of the pan. Let the caramel cool completely before cutting into squares and wrapping in waxed paper.
Recipe Source: my mom, Michel W.